End grain flooring: a durable choice
Spend enough time searching through old industrial buildings and older homes and sooner or later you’ll come across the interesting and gorgeous surface known as end grain flooring. End grain floors are made of tiles cut from timber ends. Because the cuts are made across the board, the end grain is exposed on the face of the tile, just as it would be on a chopping block. The surface of an end grain tile is consequently incredibly durable.
The durability is why the first uses for these wood block tiles were as street paving (some of those streets are still in existence) and as industrial floors. There are few tougher flooring options.
Toughness belies beauty
That toughness belies an incredibly beautiful side. End grain patterns are more intense and visually dynamic than any other wood grain. The look of reclaimed end grain tiles varies with the type of wood. You can refinish the tiles to create a gloss end grain floor that looks almost like polished brick, or finish it with a satin sealer to capture hypnotic patterns unlike any other flooring.
You can also take advantage of the time-seasoned appearance of your reclaimed tiles, worn as they will be from many years of foot (or tire) traffic. Tile arrangement patterns can be varied from a simple running bond, to a herringbone, to a more random design. In any case, the surface must be grouted and sealed to prevent dirt and moisture from penetrating the floor or individual tiles.
This flooring works best in small spaces
The floors are laid much like other tile floors, although the adhesive is different. The surface of an end grain floor is either sealed with a clear polyurethane after cleaning and a very light sanding (if you want to keep the aged appearance) or it’s sanded in much the same fashion as a hardwood strip floor is, if you’re looking for a completely new surface appearance. But given the potential complexity of the floor’s pattern and the work required for laying it, end grain floors are usually limited to smaller spaces and areas that don’t require complex adjustments to the pattern to accommodate built-in obstructions.
You don’t necessarily have to purchase reclaimed end grain tiles to have a wood block floor. You can make your own from reclaimed timbers. Use a bandsaw to cut inch-thick slices from a 6 x 6 [approximately 15 x 15 cm] or other piece of reclaimed lumber (such as the antique pin timber shown here, being sliced into 6 x 6 tiles). If the timber isn’t already surfaced four sides (S4S), you’ll need to plane it on all faces to make it square.
How to lay reclaimed end grain flooring
1. Establish the overall tile pattern. Work the pattern out on sketch paper first, using the dimensions of the room to scale. Once you’ve figured out the pattern, dry lay the actual tiles to ensure that it works to your satisfaction.
2. Snap chalk lines to divide the space into four quadrants. Lay one quadrant at a time, starting at the centre. Spread a bed of polyurethane adhesive, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, setting the tiles in place either butted up to one another, or using spacers to leave room for grout.
3. Cut tiles with a band saw or jig saw as necessary to fit around obstacles and at the outer edges of the design. Leave a ½” [1.27 cm] gap at walls, and around obstructions such as pillars, to allow for expansion. Once all the tiles are laid, let the floor set for 24 hours, or as long as recommended by the adhesive manufacturer.
4. Spread sandable, flexible wood filler into large cracks in the surface of individual tiles. If you’re refinishing the surface, sand with a drum sander equipped with 60-grit sandpaper. Sand across the grain to start with, and make a final pass with the grain.
Excerpted from Building with Secondhand Stuff, 2nd Edition: How to Reclaim, Repurpose, Re-use & Upcycle Salvaged & Leftover Materials, © Chris Peterson. Chris Peterson is the author of numerous books on home improvement and gardening, including Deck Ideas You Can Use, Black &